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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 19:17 GMT 20:17 UK
Ecuador hold their heads high
Ecuador fans during the game against Mexico
Ecuador fans have a special tie with the players

Ecuador are all but out, but for their army of colourful fans who've journeyed thousands of miles to support their team, just being at their first ever World Cup is more than enough. World Football's Mike Geddes joined the party...

You can catch the World Football radio show on World Service each Saturday.

After their 2-1 defeat by Mexico, Ecuador are still searching for their first ever World Cup point.

But whatever happens, this team will go back to South America as heroes.

Because for this tiny country of 13 million people, just being here is everything.

"You don't have any idea how important this is," says Diego Arcus of Ecuador's 'Stadio' magazine.

Gomez has earned respect from fans

"People have gone crazy. They have re-mortgaged their houses, sold their cars - whatever it takes to be here.

"This is the most important thing in Ecuador's history - more important than anything political or historical. It's an incredible thing."

Here in Japan the locals have been getting a taste of real football passion - South American style.

I met up with a group of fans who'd made the journey from their homes in Ecuador, Spain and America to follow the team they love.

Back at their hotel, they told me what it meant to have their country here among the world's best.

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Back at home they've changed the work hours and school hours so they can watch the game
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Diego Arcus of Stadio magazine

"It's just amazing," they told me. "In a hundred years of playing soccer, this is the first time we have been at a World Cup.

"Back at home they've changed the work hours and school hours so they can watch the game."

"Back home there is great passion for soccer. When you are little, the first thing you learn is how to kick a ball.

"For a country as small as Ecuador, being here among the best of the best is an honour."

While we were talking another bunch of Ecuadorians turned up.

In fact, it was the national team themselves who, to my amazement, were staying at the same hotel.

Agustin Delgado
Delgado scores against Mexico

They greet the fans like old fans, and it's this unique relationship that most of the fans think is the reason they've got this far. And Diego Arcus says it's all down to one man.

"For me, it's all down to the coach Hernan Dario Gomez," he said.

"He started something really good, showing that everyone needs to be united, and that translates to the fans, because the fans have a great relationship with the players.

"The players aren't arrogant, they love to talk to the fans because they appreciate how much it has cost for them to come so far."

"Dario Gomez is the most popular guy in Ecuador. It's incredible how popular he is and how much people trust him and believe in him.

"When he first arrived, people weren't sure about what the team could do, but he changed everyone's mind, and now he's the king in Ecuador.

"He can do whatever he wants. And he's a nice guy as well."

Ecuador were written off by the bookies before the tournament even started, but it's worth remembering that this is a team who qualified ahead of past winners Brazil and Uruguay, and second only to pre-tournament favourites Argentina.

But whatever the result, their remarkable story will go down in their country's history, and the team will go home with their heads held high.


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